Immigrant Wallet

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June 27, 2018 Kirsten Feigel

Written by John G. Sayers

Not all printed ephemera is on paper. And not all ephemera is pretty. But the ‘story’ behind the ephemera can sometimes transcend any departures from the norm.

This promotional leather-trimmed cloth ‘wallet’ created by the legendary White Star Line is far from beautiful. But the disfiguring sweat stains tell us that it was actually used by someone seeking a new home in America many years ago. The White Star Line was subsumed into Cunard over 80 years ago, so this piece has had a long life – perhaps in some family’s ‘memory drawer’.

The back of the wallet lists the White Star Line’s offices in many major European cities. The intended immigrant could have purchased his or her ticket at any of these offices. This was well before online ticket booking and purchases, and everything had to be done in person. And inside is a clue to the diversity of the passengers. As well as English, there is information in Polish. German, and Hebrew. Was this an English-speaker from British shores – or someone who faced the long, uphill challenge to learn the language of America?

Beyond this humble artifact we know nothing. But we have seen the first step toward coming to America, and a clear indication of the sweat (and no doubt the hard work and tears) faced by the newcomers of almost 100 years ago.


This material, and a vast quantity of other ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.


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